UC Merced breaks ground on Medical Education Building

‘This kind of an impact will last for years.’


Armed with golden shovels, UC Merced leaders broke ground Tuesday evening on a new campus building that is expected to help produce doctors and medical professionals to serve the local community and improve health access in the Central Valley.

The $300 million, four-story Medical Education Building, located on the eastern edge of campus, will provide the university’s so-called “B.S. to M.D.” pathway, as well as house the university’s departments of Psychology and Public Health, the Health Sciences Research Institute, and a range of general assignment learning environments.

“Medical education had long been part of the plan for UC Merced since before we opened our doors to undergraduates in 2005,” Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz said during the ceremony. “It was very much a dream, but one far too long deferred until now.”

The urgency for medical education was driven by the critical lack of health care professionals in the Central Valley, a problem that has only grown since. The Central Valley has only 47 primary care physicians for every 100,000 residents, according to the California Health Care Foundation.

“We know from the research literature that medical professionals are far more likely to establish practices in the places where they were educated and undertook their residencies,” Muñoz said. “That is why our new medical education program — known as SJV Prime Plus — in partnership with UCSF and USCF-Fresno, is so important to the people and communities of the Central Valley.”

Those who go through this “B.S. to M.D.” pathway will earn a four-year bachelor’s degree, complete 1.5 years of pre-medical clinical training and 2.5 years of clinical training that culminates with a doctor of medicine degree from the UCSF School of Medicine.

Last fall, UC Merced welcomed its first cohort of Prime Plus students — all recruited from the valley and committed to their families and their communities. The next cohort will be announced shortly.

One member of the first cohort, Sanmeet Deol, spoke at Tuesday’s groundbreaking.

“We are all from the valley, and for the valley, and committed to serving those in need of quality health care in our respective communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley for generations to come,” she said.

UC President Michael Drake, who attended the ceremony along with other top leaders in the UC system, said the program for students such as Doel has been “many, many decades in the making.”

Drake said the PRIME program began 20 years ago to train students with special expertise to provide medical care to people from challenging backgrounds. He said these programs have immediate and lasting effects on the campuses and surrounding areas.

“This kind of an impact will last for years.”

Other guests at the groundbreaking included local and state elected officials, donors, members of the medical community and UC representatives. The UC Board of Regents is in the middle of a three-day meeting at UC Merced, the first one held on the Merced campus. Attendees watched a video describing the program, examined a 3D rendering of the building, played health-related games and listened to speakers describe how momentous the event is.

“The new building will create an infrastructure to recruit, train and help retain health professionals from the Central Valley who are uniquely qualified to address the health needs of the region,” said Dr. David Rubin, executive vice president of University of California Health. “UC Health is thankful for the years of collaboration with local and state leaders that led to this point, and we look forward to seeing the future physicians that will come through these doors and go on to provide high-quality care in their communities.”

State Assemblywoman Esmerelda Soria, who represents this region in Sacramento , said she is just the latest in a long line of public officials (including former Assemblyman Adam Gray and Congressman Jim Costa) to support the effort to bring medical education to UC Merced.

“We know that this region is one of the fastest-growing, poorest and least healthy,” she said. “We know our area has a longstanding shortage of physicians and other health care professionals. We know that what we are doing today is ensuring to have a better and brighter and healthier future for our entire region.”

Slated for completion in 2026, the new Medical Education Building is the latest advance at a university campus that has grown remarkably in size and stature since its own groundbreaking in October 2002.

“We make history in Merced every day — with every student whose success we propel, with every research project that pushes the bounds of knowledge, with every community engagement project that improves life in the Central Valley and California,” Muñoz said. “Today, we are writing more history — a history of greater education, broader research and more lives improved in the Valley and beyond.”

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